UIC-Community Health Program Empowers Persons with Developmental Disability

September 2, 2010

Many people with developmental disability are sedentary and obese, have poor diet, and consequently suffer from conditions such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Promoting healthy lifestyles for this group is the aim of a new project that teams University of Illinois at Chicago researchers with two community-based nonprofit organizations in Albuquerque, N.M., and suburban Chicago.

The goal of the program is to improve the quality of health among an underserved population, says Beth Marks, research assistant professor of disability and human development at UIC and the project's lead investigator, by developing “strong, statewide infrastructures” that bring together university and community resources to find practical solutions.

Developmental disability -- or DD -- is the term used to describe life-long disabilities acquired before age 18. About 2 percent of the U.S. adult population has a developmental disability, but experts predict the number of those aged 60 or older within this group to double, totaling more than 1.2 million by 2030.

Most physicians and nurses receive only a few hours of classroom training on the needs of persons with disabilities, and many people with DD either do not have access to, or are unaware of health promotion programs like those developed at UIC and elsewhere. Community organizations are often the sole informed advocate for persons with DD and their families. They are centralized, firmly engaged in their communities, and linked to local, state and federal policy makers.

Marks said UIC's "Community-Academic Partnership" project will address the problem of translating health promotion research into public health practice for aging people with DD to help them gain health equality. Building such partnerships across communities can improve health care delivery by linking a hard-to-reach population through outreach and referral initiatives.

"We hope that community-based organizations can take a leadership role in generating research questions and more actively participate in the development and implementation of research initiatives," Marks said.

"A huge need exists for health promotion," she said. "Our long-range goal is to have accessible health promotion resources available in every state for local community-based organizations supporting people with DD."

UIC, with more than a decade of experience in developing and testing health promotion programs for persons with DD, is partnering this new project with Albuquerque-based ARCA, New Mexico's largest private nonprofit organization serving people with DD, and with Zion, Ill.-based NorthPointe Resources, which offers one of the most comprehensive support systems for persons with DD in Chicago's north suburbs. Both organizations have long experience in providing day-to-day services, community resources and strong networking

Other project investigators include: Jasmina Sisirak, associate project director in UIC's Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Aging with Developmental Disabilities; Elaine Solimon, CEO of ARCA; and Dina Donahue Chase, senior VP, vocational services at NorthPointe Resources.

The work is funded by a three-year, $1 million grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The money comes from the federal government's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

This news release was written by Paul Francuch, associate director of the UIC News Bureau.